The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) has been on a mission these past several years to strengthen its global presence in emerging markets by helping them understand the importance of standards. Standards ensure that devices and systems operate seamlessly, thereby systematizing the design of products and boosting trade.
IEEE-SA has focused on helping local leaders adopt and develop standards in their own countries. It does this by working with industry, advising government on policies related to standardization (and, increasingly, technology), and supporting emerging technologies such as smart grid.
The association is building on its significant international activities. After all, it has been issuing globally recognized standards for more than a century. The IEEE-SA’s development process relies on experts from all over the world and complies with principles set by the World Trade Organization, and also supports principles codified as OpenStand. The principles call for standards to be developed in a transparent and open environment, free from interference by government and others. There are about 900 active IEEE standards.
“Our strategic approach looks at where IEEE can develop standards that will have an impact,” says Moira Patterson, senior manager of IEEE-SA’s global activities. This approach often looks at one country at a time.
About four years ago, IEEE began helping engineers in India develop standards to meet specific local requirements. IEEE-SA also added standards-focused staff to the IEEE offices in Beijing and Bangalore, India.
India’s IEEE Standards Group has two main goals: getting the country’s technology companies to comply with global standards and convincing academia, government, and industry that it is in their best interests to be involved in the standards development process. Sri Chandrasekaran, senior regional program manager in India since 2012, is responsible for standards-related initiatives there.
IEEE-SA also began making agreements with national standards organizations. For example, it has formed cooperative relationships with the Korea Electric Association and the South African Bureau of Standards.
“Standardization is a global game, so it is important to collaborate with standards bodies worldwide,” Patterson says.
Many of those involved with standards development activities come from industry, but governments, academics, and other interested parties are increasingly involved. This is why, as Patterson says, “we must visit organizations around the world to explain the benefits of participating in standardization. We are reaching out beyond the traditional technologists and educating groups like medical professionals and nongovernment organizations about the importance of standardization in nontraditional areas.”
Companies are key because they have a vested interest in developing standards in their industry sectors, as this will help make their products interoperable and also lead to economies of scale. This increases potential markets and can decrease costs.
In 2013 for example, several IEEE-SA volunteers and staff traveled to India and spent almost three weeks meeting with representatives from more than 20 industries, government agencies, educational institutions, and R&D labs to raise awareness about standards. Together they assessed the region’s requirements for new standards and created standards-writing partnerships. Recently, Chandrasekaran began working with the Bureau of Indian Standards to educate companies on the benefits of adhering to global standards so that India’s electronics and other products could be sold around the globe.
IEEE-SA also schedules visits to organizations in conjunction with meetings of its governance committees when they travel to various countries, most recently in China, Germany, and Brazil.
Just which standards are written can also affect how a country formulates policy about technology, such as policies on digital privacy rights and regulation of the Internet. But policymakers, often not technically trained themselves, look for neutral technical expertise to help them make informed legislative decisions, Patterson points out. That’s why IEEE-SA has local experts to help inform them.
“IEEE is trying to bridge that lack of knowledge by training technologists to speak in a way that resonates with policymakers,” she says.
For example, IEEE-SA held a joint event last May in Brussels with Digital Europe, the European trade association representing the digital technology industry, to take stock of the work done by the Multi-Stakeholder Platform on ICT (information and communication technology) standardization. The MSP was created in late 2011 and brings together EU member states, societal stakeholders, and standardization organizations to ensure that Europe can meet its ICT standardization needs by using standards where they exist. IEEE has been an important voice in advising the European Commission on ICT standardization policy and on identifying standards applicable to public procurements.
Many developing countries upgrading their aging power systems are turning to smart grids. This is a striking example of a worldwide application of a number of technologies that must operate together seamlessly. More than 100 IEEE standards related to smart grid cover such topics as how to install the systems and how to protect them against cyberattacks. In 2011 IEEE-SA released the world’s first cross-disciplinary guidelines for a power distribution system: IEEE 2030 “Guide for Smart Grid Interoperability of Energy Technology and Information Technology Operation With the Electric Power System (EPS), End-Use Applications, and Loads.”
“Technology is rapidly changing, and the traditional divisions between technologies have been changing as well,” Patterson says. “Borders are disappearing as communications technology is used in just about everything. Being flexible and bringing the right stakeholders together to address nontraditional spaces is key.”